Laz MU

We sailed from  Muhii to Cloijo then on to Iglan Porto, picking up what was left of the  Lete people. They were overjoyed to see us. Heroic survivors, they all had stories  to tell – tales of betrayal, lies, theft, promises, brutality, suffering….how they had managed to avoid/outwit the rogue soldiers  left behind from last year’s failed rebellion….  how some of the soldiers were  mere children but children with guns…how it was their own people who had robbed and betrayed them….how once the traffickers had your money that was it as far as they were concerned.
One of the Lete people, in overalls and tennis shoes, tall, well-spoken,  said she was blind, and to take them to Iglan Maché she had hired a guide who had abandoned them as soon as they left Trasmont.  It had taken  her  and her son a year to get as  far as this.

And cost her all the money she had, no doubt. And you’re not there yet, lady, I thought. Not by a long chalk.
” We’ll soon be there, ” I told her.
She was accompanied by a small boy, ten? eleven? who held her hand in both of his and looked fiercely up at me whenever I spoke. Who was looking after who it was difficult to say.
” We’ll be in Mervidia in a couple of days, ” I told her.
” I have some money, ” she said brightly, producing from her overalls for my inspection a thick wad of notes.
The old currency.

” Take it, ” she insisted, almost pleading.

I closed her hand over her valueless money.  “What’s your name?” I asked the boy who turned away from me and pressed himself against his mother’s legs.
” Take it, ” she insisted. ” If  it’s not enough, tell me. I have more. ”
” Put it away, ” I said quietly, aware we were being watched. They all put their faith in money, these people.  Money was their rock. With money you could escape to freedom. With money you could bribe the soldiers, guards, inspectors, drivers, police. With money there was nothing you couldn’t do. Without it  you were at the mercy of  the evil people who wished you harm. That was the way their thinking went.

The final crossing from Iglan Potro to Mervidia was the tricky part – if the pirates didn’t sneak up on you then the weather would. Luckily it seemed the pirates had other fish to fry and the black storm clouds hovering over Muhii  finally made up their mind to deprive us of their company for a bit and vanished  South. Blown off the map. Our map anyway. But there is always something new, something unexpected to grapple with on that particular crossing either in the treacherous, turquoise waters of Iglan Potro  or the deceptive cerulean blues around  Mervidia. When the strong eastward current rushes through the Mervidian gap and encounters an opposing east wind, this has the effect of building up  monster waves.

The wave that got us wasn’t 100 ft. tall but it was tall enough, tall enough and steep enough and fast enough. Suddenly from nowhere we were confronted by this  roaring glistening wall of green water.
Nothing  I could do except shout warnings just before it hit us, shout out orders that were immediately drowned in the water’s roar.
Down the boat went at first into a deep deep trough that preceded the wave then everything went quiet and we were being lifted up then just as quickly thrown back down, such a long long way down….. 

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the startled face of the little boy close to mine. As soon as I opened my eyes he was gone. I sat up. He was standing close to his mother who was facing out to sea although being blind it wouldn’t matter in which direction she was facing. He was tugging at her hand and saying something to her but she didn’t move.There were others strung out along the beach but not too many, not more than half the number who had set out with us from Iglan Porto.

After a bit I got to my feet. No broken bones. No  cuts.  No bruises. Even to be still alive was a miracle.
I walked slowly along the beach to the woman and child. ” Are you all right?” I asked them.
The little boy looked up at me then pressed his face against his mother’s legs. Without shifting her sightless gaze from the sea, she gently held him against her and said dully, “It’s all right.  I have some money.”






A man and his wife were awakenwd at 3:00 am by a loud pounding on the door. The man gets up and goes to the door where a drunken stranger, standing in the pouring rain, is asking for a push.
“Do you now what time it is?” asks the husband and slams the door and returns to bed.
“Who was that?” asked his wife..
“Just some drunk guy asking for a push,” he answers.
“Did you offer to help him?” she asks.
“No, I did not, it’s 3:00 in the morning and it’s pouring rain out there!”
“Well, you have a short memory,” says his wife. “Can’t you remember about three months ago when we broke down in a snow storm, and those two guys helped us? I think you should help him, and you should be ashamed of yourself!”
The man does as he is told, gets dressed, and goes out into the pounding rain.
He calls out into the dark, “Hello, are you still there?”
“Yes,” comes back the answer.
“Do you still need a push?” calls out the husband.
“Yes, please!” comes the reply from the dark.
“Where are you?” asks the husband.
“Over here on the swing,” says the drunk




Language Love

You’re such a snob!


When Ariadne left me in mid-sentence and began throwing stuff  pêle-mêle  into cases and holdalls and bin liners, I asked her where it had all gone wrong, just what had I done to ruin what was, for me at least, a perfect marriage, and she paused long enough to say with unbelievable bitterness, “You’re such a snob. ”

I was knocked over. Bouleversé.

But I have  nothing against people who are of a different class, creed or race from myself, ” I protested. ” In fact –  ”

Not that sort of snob, ” she interrupted impatiently. “ You’re a language snob. That’s your problem. Our problem.  Pass me that case.

I was dumbfounded. Asombrado.  Décontenancé.

Just because I can’t stand people who say ‘ Between you and I…‘, ” I told her, ” and ‘He was laying down…’ and ‘there are less people…’ and ‘ she’s disinterested in what I say…’ and ‘ he could of went yesterday..’ and  ‘in this day and age’  and begin everything they say with ‘basically’ or ‘actually’ and 

But before I could say any more, she was off, taking with her my first editions of Graham Greenes novels, all my  Picasso’s blue period  prints and most of my  CDs of Beethoven’s greatest hits.

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It means literally ‘ with mother-in-law’ they told me but I think they were just pulling my leg. They have an odd sense of humour once you leave Madrid behind, these rural people – they keep asking me what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt (‘keelt’ is how they pronounce it) and then laughing like drains. Yawn yawn. I’d hitched all the way from Aberdeen thanks to the efficacy of my Black Watch kilt (my grandfather’s actually) and I wasn’t prepared to have it lifted, innuendoed or scoffed at ,  so in reply I just made a hand gesture I’d been taught by my good friend Sergio which he said meant in Spanish, Please go away, you no longer amuse me.
It worked a treat.

Anyhow Consuegra  is where I bought the small but costly packet of  Azafran and was given the name of the man in London who would be waiting for it. It takes 2000 crocuses to make 1 gram of the stuff,  I was told. Consuegra seemingly is the big centre for saffron.  In summer they say the fields around the big white windmills (all 11 of them, 4 still working) are a heaving sea of vivid purple. Worth going there for that sight alone so they say. But more of that later.
When I got back to London I found my way easily enough to the Quixote Bar and Restaurante (opposite the Victoria Bus Station) which, as you might have guessed, was full of  non-Spanish customers ordering very unSpanish tapas at very English prices. The barman, however, was  from Galicia and when I  asked to see  his boss he told me that his very busy boss could not see me at the moment because his very powerful boss also ran a big 4 star hotel in Santiago de Compostela,  Los Abetos, had I heard of it, una mina de oro, very successful,  and his wonderful boss was fortunate enough to be there at this very moment.
Se crio en buenos panales.
At which point the small, bird-like woman next to me at the bar piped up to say to us both in Spanish that she had stayed at that very hotel and she and her husband had been impressed by its high standards.  While the barman ignored us both, obsessively polishing and repolishing a wine glass, holding  it up to the light either to admire his handiwork or to look for vestigial smear marks, I asked her where in Spain she was from. She laughed at this and said that actually she was from Stokesly actually, then lowering her voice, she told me that neither the owner nor the barman were to be trusted and that she
She never got round to finishing  her long sentence. A woman from nowhere materialised at her side, grasped her arm, gave me a flashing smile and took the woman from Stokesly away.
Now by the strangest of coincidences, the Fiesta de la Rosa del  Afrazan was

(to be continued)


I liked the feel of them. Early 1900s. Brass with leather covering. Centre focus. And French. I ’ve always had a penchant for things French, as you’ve no doubt guessed already. Lumière de Paris. Just the sound of the maker’s name was enough to make me close my eyes, to make me yearn for something I hadn’t got. Lumière de Paris
All the way home I was like a kid with a new toy, zooming in on anything and everything that caught my eye – a couple kissing (she kept her nice blue eyes open throughout the kiss); a roof-repairer (wearing an out-of-date Arsenal shirt with HENRY printed on the back – I could only see the HEN bit because he was half-hidden by the chimney stack but I could guess the rest – I probably could have deciphered that much without the binoculars); the front page of The Times (being read by an elderly gent at a bus stop across the street – I was surprised to note it had gone up to £150 but that was perhaps only for the Saturday edition).
After a week of irregular use, however, the binocular novelty began to fade, diminish, dwindle, ease off as it were.
My first misgivings came when I spotted a fox on the garden wall, an exciting enough event  to watch, drink in and remember later. A precious moment stolen from time. Emotion recollected in tranquillity and all that. If I had been a Verlaine I would have penned an immortal poem about it some lazy Sunday afternoon months afterwards but instead, me being just me, I reached for the binoculars, a bit like a Japanese tourist reaching for his Nikon as soon as the Taj Mahal comes into sight.
The fox stood there,  posing so it seemed, big tail, thinnish body, long face, bright fearless eyes, quite relaxed, quite blasé, something of autumn in its red-brown coat, looking over its left shoulder for me as if it had been waiting for ages, as if I was late for our appointment, but as soon as I made that fatal move to fish the binoculars out of my pocket – Whoosh! -and it was gone, dematerialised, vanishing into the thin air from whence it came, leaving me disappointed. Disenchanted. Disrespected.
My next faux-pas was when I saw Helga, my 40 year-old next-door neighbour, naked, well after midnight, chasing round her kitchen with a yellow plastic fly-swatter held aloft, poised and ready to strike. (I used to use a rolled up copy of The Scotsman for the same purpose, usually waiting till the bluebottle  landed on a window pane before I struck, but all that was well before I entered my Buddhist period….now it’s ‘Live and let live’.)  Anyway Helga’s bluebottle wasn’t one of those end-of-season types, (“torpid” is the word I’m groping for) but a bit of a mover, a frenetic zigzagger, never settling for long enough to be a sitting target. It was such an uneven contest. I became more interested in whether she caught the fly than in catching a glimpse of anything in the breast or pubic regions – she was after all a middle-aged lady and a nice woman to boot, a bit of a gourmet, well-travelled, interesting, kept herself to herself but with neighbours like me who could blame her?
The binoculars were excellent. No complaint there. Nothing wrong with the instrument though perhaps the same could not be said for the user. In fact I was able to locate the bluebottle long before she did, and felt like throwing open my kitchen window and shouting at her, “It’s behind you!” or ”Above you! Just above your head! ” or ” Look, look up, you silly woman! Up there! On the effan lampshade!”
I had switched off my kitchen light and assumed I had thus rendered myself invisible but I think she must have spotted me spotting her, some glint from the binocular lenses perhaps,  because she suddenly switched off the light (“and in an instant, all was dark“) and when she switched it back on several minutes later she was fully dressed, as if she was setting off for some secret midnight ball that the rest of us hadn’t been invited to. (..to which the rest of us hadn’t  been invited…Better? Too Henry James perhaps?)

A vintage pair of metal and leather binoculars

She peered out of her window in my direction (my light was still switched off) then drew the curtains, not first the left then the right one as most people do but both together, a very clear-cut act of closure, a very definite zzipp!
So. curtain-time then, my night’s entertainment over, sad to say. And when I bumped into her at the Deli counter in the Supermarket next day she wasn’t her usual cheery self. Far from it. Decidedly chilly, if you really want to know.
“Have you tried that Camembert de Pichaud ?” I asked pointing out the little round balsa-wood box  with the white horse picture on the lid but she just shook her head, pointedly avoiding eye-contact, and pointedly hurrying off elsewhere with her trolley. I felt like shouting after her, ” Did you finally get that effan bluebottle then?”
Later that afternoon when I found myself watching in thrilling close-up a thrush with a white star marking on its breast bobbobbing about the lawn, stabstabbing with its yellow beak at some insect or worm or whatever for twenty minutes or so, I said to myself, ” Tiens, tiens, mon brave! Sure as hell this is no way for a fully grown adult to be passing his limited spell on earth!”
I decided without further ado to take the effan things back to whence they came. Then I was due to meet up with a man. A man  to whom I was owing a considerable sum of money. A considerable amount of money which I didn’t have and which he wouldn‘t accept that I didn‘t have. A man called Quint. An unpleasant man called Quint with a thick Belfast accent which no-one dared to comment on (…on which etc…)
So, with time to spare  I got the 44 down to the charity shop and there, in the window, propped up against the empty binocular case, was a square of cardboard which said in a big, black felt-pen scrawl:
Now if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s seeing the poor old defenceless apostrophe misunderstood, misused, misplaced, mistreated, so instead of just quietly replacing the binoculars, I purloined a copy of “The Camelgirl” by Emma Waugh which I’d wanted to read for ages. Then I headed reluctantly for my favourite pub, slowing down to listen to the ancient but still talented accordionist who plays (and sings!) French love songs of the twenties and early thirties at the corner of Albany Street and Seven Sisters Road, outside The Izaak Walton where I had arranged (or rather, I had been summoned) to meet Sean Quint, aka ‘The Hulk’, ex-hurling player of distinction (thus the missing front teeth), sometime house painter and decorator,  reliable but expensive, and, at present, coercer and  arm-breaker extraordinaire.
The accordionist ( I had listened to him often enough, I should have known his name) didn’t seem to be doing well. People passed, slowed down but didn’t stop or if they did it was just for long enough to drop a coin into his hat because of his age rather than his performance. Pity. He still had the voice. Still sweet in spite of too many Gauloises. And still the nimble fingers. I’m told street performers can make more than £100 on an average  day.
He was seated on a folding chair, knees akimbo,  accordion resting on his right thigh, green hat upturned at his feet.  65? 70?  Must have been quite a looker when he was young. Still lean as a whippet. 65.
Pity about the accordion though. German. A Hohner Ventura. Wheezy.
I let my handful of silver trickle into his green hat ( a match with his green corduroy jacket). Although I know they usually make sure the hat or whatever is kept emptyish for obvious reasons, all I could see in his hat, apart from my own contribution,  was a dozen or so copper coins. And it was Saturday, a prime time, a prime spot.
Used to have a spot on TV back in the good old black and white days, or so I’m told. Ah well. “Sic transit gloria mundi” .
Big sigh.
If you wanted him to sing any particular song you had to write down its name for him.  Perhaps he was deaf or something. Anyhow, partly to put off the evil hour, partly because it was my sort of music, I tore a blank page from the back of “The Camelgirl” and  printed on it with my short blue bookie’s pen the first line of my favourite favourite song, ”On n’a pas tous les jours vingt ans” which he can perform well enough in his own particular way although I must admit I prefer it as played by Léon Raiter and sung by the incomparable Berthe Sylva.When he had finished “Coeur de Voyou” I handed him the page which he read then handed it back to me, nodding, and immediately began to play  my song as if it was his favourite too:

“On  n’a  pas  tous  les  jours  vingt  ans,
 Ça  nous arrive une  fois  seulement ”                                                                                                                                                                                         

He now had an audience of half-a dozen or so. And you could add to that the three smokers in the doorway of the Walton who had turned to face the music. He didn’t look at anyone as he sang, just occasionally glancing down at his right hand as if unsure that it knew all the notes while his left hand was left entirely to its own devices.
I’d forgotten just how long the song was. On and on and on it went, fine for me but not so for non-aficionados. His audience drifted away one by one till there was only me and the smokers in the Walton doorway left. (..were only I…?)
After a bit, I realised I liked the song as much as ever but not the words, not the message, certainly not the message, “You’re not twenty for ever, that comes to us once only …”. In fact I had never really listened to the words before, just nodded along with the music and the mood. “You’re only young once.“  What about  “You’re only middle-aged once”? Or “You’re only old once”? Didn’t  that make just as much sense? Or just as little? In fact all that made sense was
As soon as he hit the last note, he clipped the bellows shut,  got to his feet and leaning slightly forward,  unstrapped  himself from his Hohner a bit like a woman getting out of  her  bra. Curtain-time again.
He fitted the accordion back  into its big black box, a bit like a giant club foot, straightened up, stretched, lit himself a cigarette. Sad to play to an audience of one; sad to sing your heart out and nobody notices, nobody applauds; sad to be old and unappreciated.
I had clapped but of course he hadn’t heard. Did he hear the songs that he sang? Did he
Nobody watching, I dropped the binoculars into his green hat and  felt  suddenly –  well, perhaps not so much ‘uplifted’ as…..‘reprieved‘… ‘released’…or even ‘relieved’…
Certainly ‘relieved’ of the binoculars.
I waited till he picked up his hat then turned away. By the time he has lifted the binoculars out of his hat, looked at them, smiled, then used them to zoom in on  a passing seagull or whatever, I‘ll be out of sight, out of mind.
What go’s around come’s around,  things work out for the best,  gather ye rosebuds while ye may……
You might as well believe in the effan fairies as in all that guff. I could cope. In my own way  by myself  not needing your helping hand thank you very much I could cope with whatever the fickle fan of destiny might throw back in my face. In my own way, in my own way. Whatever that was. I would find out as I went along. Frank Sinatra did.
Bypassing the Walton (where at this very second Mr. Quint would no doubt be glancing with narrowed eyes at his Rolex ), still trying to work out in my head what made sense and what didn‘t, I went on my  way, head high, big strides, back straight, not exactly rejoicing  but in the zone, as they say, prepared for whatever came to pass, and,  just to be on the safe side, taking more care than usual not to tread on the cracks in the pavement..
And it was a nice enough evening. Almost not raining.


The Indians are coming

Me (flute and halo warbonnet) Dakota Sioux. Dark Eagle. Me very cold. Long way from home. Squaw not happy. We what you call eleewal emagrans. Play plenty music for not plenty money. Little Proud Mouth (him on  left) him our dancer. We go BOOM pom pom pom Boom pom pom pom and Little Proud Mouth he make two steps. First BOOM he put out right foot. Second BOOM left. Going up. Going down. Going up. Going down.

Next week Tenerife. Squaw happy there.

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